If you’re craving authentic Sichuan eats, then read on…
If you are a foodie that can’t do without spice, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, should be on your bucket list. After all, it is the first place in Asia to be a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, created the first Chinese brewery, established the original tea culture centre and launched China’s first food museum! Only a mere three hours away from Hong Kong, this land of smiles is probably the most underrated city for a weekend getaway. The cuisine has been dubbed by experts as one of the best in China, and a must-visit place for street food and anyone who loves eating fiery foods. Read on as we take you on a spicy journey and share with you these not-to-miss Sichuan eats that you can chomp down on over a weekend break…
Read more: Your Guide to Chengdu
Breakfast: Street Eats at Jinli Pedestrian Street (RMB20 for the noodles, RMB 15 for beancurd)
There’s no better way to begin your morning than with a breakfast spectacle. This bowl is essentially just one noodle, stretched to a crazy length. The chef selects a serving of spiral dough, and expertly unwinds and flings the strand into a boiling pot through a rhythmic jumping and whipping motion. The 10-metre long noodle is served in a concentrated beef broth topped with fragrant Sichuan spices and chilli oil that perks you up almost immediately.
Don’t miss the soft beancurd as well, which comes with a choice of sweet, savoury and mala flavours. The tofu pudding is silky smooth and the savoury toppings adds a unique but delightful spin on the sweet Douhua we Hong Kongers are familiar with.
Jinli Pedestrian Street, Wuhou Ci Street, Wuhou District
Mid-Morning Snack: Chengdu street snacks at Jinli Pedestrian Street (RMB20 for the pineapple glutinous rice, RMB25 for the cold mung bean noodles, RMB20 for the corn cakes)
You can easily spend hours at the Jinli Pedestrian Street, so be sure to indulge in the local street food – cold mung bean noodles (shang xin liang fen/伤心凉粉), pineapple glutinous rice (po lo fan/菠萝饭), corn cakes and fresh panda mochi.
Chengdu residents love sipping Chinese tea in the park, but if you are short of time, grab a cuppa on the go. The wide assortment of fragrant tea flavours are made fresh on the daily and a great stimulant for evening walks ahead.
Jinli Pedestrian Street, Wuhou Ci Street, Wuhou District
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Lunch: Sichuan-style roasted fish at Kao Master (RMB190 for the meal)
Sichuan-style roasted fish is one of the most popular sit-down dishes with the Chengdu crowd. You first select from a variety of fishes and choose your preferred size before deciding on the spice that will be cooked with the flesh. Fish can range from snakeheads to catfish and spice levels range from mild heat to numbing flavours. Our mala fish was menacingly spicy and we also ordered add-ons to our fish tray for a lavish meal – potato slices, enoki mushrooms and lotus root.
Its grilled skewers are pretty tasty too. Our pork neck meat was so tender and juicy, we actually ordered another round of sticks. If your gut needs cooling, opt for one of its local desserts – a jelly topped with rice, ground nuts, glutinous rice balls and goji berries – which is pleasantly light and only slightly sweet.
4/F Wanda Plaza, No.1 North 3rd Section of Yihuan Road, Jinniu District
Dinner: Hotpot skewers/Chuan Chuan Xiang at Niu qian qian chuan chuan xiang (牛签签串串香) (RMB180 for the hotpot meal, RMB10 for each orange)
Hotpot is quintessential in Sichuan cuisine, and locals enjoy the dish by dipping and cooking raw Chuan Chuan Xiang into the fiery pot. If you are not in the mood for spice, there is also a milky herbal option for your soup base. Select from a range of meat or veggie sticks from the cold shelves (if you are adventurous, try one of the local delicacies – pig’s brain) and place them right into the pot as if you were eating steamboat.
To enjoy your Chuan Chuan Xiang like a local, accompany your dinner with a bottle of Baijiu, a very strong and clear distilled alcohol of at least 50%. But if you’re not keen on spirits, check out the wagons of large, wrinkly oranges being peddled down the street. The fruits may look ugly, but they are surprisingly sweet and are known to put out flames in your gut.
No. 9, Houxiangzi, Xinjie Street, North Section of Chunxi Road
Tipple time: Music House/音乐房子
Music House is one of the trendiest bars in Chengdu and situated in the shopping district of Lan Kwai Fong (yep, they have one too!), which is also well-known for its bar and pub culture. As its name implies, Music House is one for the music lovers, with live performances every night, featuring talented and aspiring musicians from all over the world.
More importantly, its cocktails are among the most extensive in the city, along with an impressive selection of beers and wines. Visit the bar on Mondays and you can enjoy German beer and seven different cocktails at an unbelievable 120 Yuan per person!
305F Yulin Life Plaza, 15 Yulin South Road, Wuhou District
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Breakfast: Rabbit’s head and cooked Chuan Chuan Xiang (串串香) at Luodai Ancient Town (RMB7 per head, RMB5-10 per stick)
A must-try and surprisingly common street food is the rabbit’s head. At seven Yuan a pop, these heads have been simmered for hours and infused with great Sichuan spice. For the benefit of most who might not know how to savour one, only the ‘soft’ parts can be eaten, such a the brain, eyes, cheek, tongue and chin.
But if you are not thrilled at the idea of ‘Fear Factor’ style food, go for its well-loved Chuan Chuan Xiang, which is essentially meat on sticks. These spicy snacks are lip smacking, eaten cold and served in a ginormous cup.These are also widely and readily available anywhere in Chengdu.
Ba Jiao Jing Street, Long Quan Yi District
Lunch: Cold noodles and dumplings at Ban Jie Xiang Ming Snacks (半节巷名小吃) (RMB100 for the meal)
Snacking is a popular in Chengdu, and it is common to see locals ordering a selection of light favourites for lunch. We chanced upon this award-winning quaint eatery and indulged in pork and potato rice (rou he tu dou gai fan/肉和土豆盖饭), cold chicken noodles (ji si liang mian/鸡丝凉面), bell dumplings (long zha shou/龙扎手), beef in mung bean jelly (niu rou liang fen/牛肉凉粉) and glutinous rice dumplings (tangyuan/汤圆).
The bowls are one-size and its variation of cold noodles, dumplings and even cooked Chuan Chuan Xiang sticks is extensive. So for a table of two, a selection of four to five items on the menu should fill you right up.
No. 5-6, No. 17 Gen Nan Street, Dongcheng District
Afternoon snack: Sweet glutinous rice balls (Tangyuan/汤圆) at Guo Tangyuan (郭汤圆) (15RMB per bowl of rice balls)
Tangyuan is a traditional Chinese dessert and originally eaten on special occasions such as the Lantern Festival, after the Chinese New Year period orWinter Solstice. But this delightful little snack is now available all year round!
These little sticky glutinous rice balls are generously stuffed with black sesame paste, popping in your mouth as bit down. Pair with the sweet and slightly spicy ginger soup, perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Kuanzhai Alley, East of Tongren Road, west of Changshun Street, Qingyang District
Dinner: Chen Mapo Tofu (陳麻婆豆腐) (RMB150 for the meal)
If you are yet to try mapo tofu, you have not been to Chengdu! These soft tofu cubes are cooked with minced pork, set in fermented chilli bean paste, and topped with ground dried peppercorns. Don’t be deceived by the colour. The chilli sauce is so mouth-numbing that if you’re not a spice-lover, keep some water to hand! The white rice is free-flow.
Mapo tofu is a must-try but there is also an assortment of local Sichuan delicacies available in its menu. We recommend the twice-cooked pork, the Sichuan dumplings in chilli oil and the tea-smoked duck.
197 West Yu Long Street, Qingyang District
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Tipple time: The Beer Nest II Bar and Kitchen
This is the perfect place for beer aficionados. The Beer Nest specialises in craft beers, but it also has a large selection of imported Belgium beers, too. We highly recommend trying one of its local ales – the zesty Chengdu Wheat grapefruit beer or the Chengdu Stout, with a great espresso dark chocolate flavour. Its beer specials vary every night but they rarely disappoint. So, why not round up your Chengdu vacay with a good Prost and a satisfying swig?
No.48-32 Section 4, Renmin South Road, Tongzilin District
Featured image courtesy of getty images, all other images courtesy of @ziicaroll